John Lennon had said, “Life happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” The quote, though rusted with age, still shines true. Life never really pans out the way we think it would, and ends up surprising and disappointing us. Something similar happened with Precilla Veigas Dsouza, who was diagnosed with a rare form of abdominal cancer when she was halfway through her PhD in medical science at the University of Toronto.
Dsouza was told by her doctor that she would survive for another six months, and if aided by chemotherapy then possibly a year. Eighty per cent of her dissertation work was already over, and Dsouza fought the fatal disease. She completed her dissertation and six weeks after defending her PhD dissertation successfully, the University in a rare gesture, held a special convocation for her on May 9, 2017, a month before their usual June celebrations, to mark her achievement.
“I fear I may not survive another four weeks to see my June convocation,” Veigas wrote in an open letter published in Hindustan Times. In the same letter, the 45-year-old said she always nurtured the dream of doing a PhD. A gifted student, her dream remained unfulfilled due to different, trying circumstances. Born in Karnataka, she moved to Dubai in 1997 after getting married. But her unfulfilled dream kept on her nagging her. “Even though my husband was doing well in his career, I was not happy. I was haunted by a longing to fulfill my dream of doing a PhD,” she wrote.
But her dreams began to take shape when they shifted to Canada in 2003. In 2005, she was given the permission to work on a pilot programme and got a job volunteering in a reputed hospital. Later she also got a volunteer role in a clinical research organisation. She was offered a full-time job but she turned it down to pursue further education in clinical research. She enrolled at both McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, as well as at Humber College in Toronto to get two post-graduate certificates in clinical research. Her gruelling hard work soon paid off as she became coordinator of a groundbreaking clinical study, involving more than 74 hospitals, and that required collecting data on cardiac arrest and trauma patients, who were at the risk of bleeding to death. Her fascinating work soon convinced Dr Sandro Rizoli, who would later be her supervisor, to accept her as a PhD candidate in 2012 at the Faculty of Medicine in University of Toronto.
But tragedy struck in 2015 when she was diagnosed with cancer. Though, now, her happiness knows no bounds on having realised her dreams. Speaking to The Star before the event Veigas had voiced her joy and nervousness. “I’m so nervous and excited at the same time,” she said. In order to witness this feat, several people had turned up. Her extended family from Toronto, India and the US were there so was her immediate family. Her 15-year-old daughter Jadyn stood by her like a rock. In her one of her interviews Veigas acknowledged the great strengh she derives from her family. “I’ve always had very strong support,” she had said.
But her long, arduous fight was not easy. There were days when she could not walk, and in her worst days she had told her 15-year-old daughter to collect the degree for her. Her daughter, who is currently studying pharmacology, believed in her mother, and presently is evidently proud.
Her work has led to guidelines at St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto that help in in treating trauma patients by matching them to the most effective blood products for transfusion. Her dissertation that was defended by her on March 31, was described by her supervisor as “spectacular”.
Notwithstanding what future holds for her, today she is happy. “I am also so happy to leave a legacy for my daughter, Jadyn, to find the strength to achieve her own life goals,” she wrote. She also hopes she can be an inspiration for others, since as she says, “In the end, all we have is one another.”